Position at 00.30 UTC Thursday 26th June:
17 deg 25.61 mins south
178 deg 54.71 mins west
110 miles to run to Savusavu
All's very well aboard Maunie today – well almost all, more of this later. We are now in Fijian waters, sailing in between the Lau Group islands at the eastern side, in bright sunshine. The wind has been slowly decreasing through the night so we arrived at the islands at the perfect time, just after sunrise, and we now have gentle seas and a friendly 12 knot breeze so we've both managed some decent off-watch sleep, though Di complained it was very cold last night! At the moment we have the full mainsail and poled-out yankee set and are making about 5 knots which is an ok speed for us to arrive in Savusavu mid-morning tomorrow; overtime fees are very expensive to clear-in outside normal Monday to Friday working hours so we're watching the projected ETA on the chart plotter carefully and we'll probably hoist the Parasailor again this afternoon to speed up a bit.
The islands look very beautiful and it's a real shame we can't stop at them but the penalties for so doing before clearing in to the country at an official port of entry are high (several thousand Fijian dollars plus the threat of expulsion) so we'll have to beat back against the prevailing wind in a few weeks to visit them. The Lau Group islands are pretty much untouched by tourism so only a few foreign yachts visit and we've heard about some amazingly enthusiastic welcomes from the villagers. So for the moment we're content to see them slipping past us as we pick our way through the reefs but it's very exciting to visit our first new country for a while.
We'll arrive at about the same time as an American boat called Bravo who are on the SSB radio net. They are approaching from the south, directly from New Zealand, and reported a really bad night with consistent 30-knot winds and big, 3 metre swells breaking with green water over the decks; neither Adam or Cindy slept at all. The constant washing of sea water has found a leak in the deck somewhere and the salt water has been tracking down a wiring duct under the deck; they suddenly saw sea water running out of their radio set, mounted in a navigation panel in the cabin, so they are worried about what damage has been done to the electronics.
We, unfortunately, had a war story to trade with them. At 21.00 local time Maunie suddenly veered off course and gybed; Dianne was on watch and went straight to the wheel but it took us a couple of minutes to get things back under control. Looking over the stern with a torch, we had a sickeningly familiar feeling when we saw that the new Windpilot rudder had disappeared into the depths of the Pacific. Regular readers of the blog will remember that the original 16 year-old one failed en-route from Tonga to New Zealand last October and that we'd got a whole new unit, of a 'new and improved' design, sent from Germany. Now, after only 1600 miles of sailing, it too had failed with a similar fatigue fracture of the main vertical rudder shaft.
At first light we were able to withdraw the 24mm diameter stainless steel shaft from the top of the unit to find a perfect brittle fracture across it at the point where it was drilled and tapped for the top fastening bolt for the rudder blade. We've exchanged emails with the manufacturer and will wait for further advice; we're one of the first boats to have one of the new design models fitted so unfortunately we've turned into a test boat. Thank goodness the rudder didn't break off when we had the Parasailor up a few hours earlier as a sudden loss of directional control could have been very messy with a huge flapping sail wrapping itself around the rig.
So, now that the shock has worn off, we're counting our lucky stars that it happened when it did and that we are heading somewhere where it'll be possible to get replacement parts sent out from Germany, once a better design solution has been found. We're now running on the electric autopilot, which isn't ideal given our depleted battery capacity but at least the solar panels are recharging the batteries really well at the moment and we'll run the generator for a couple of hours in the night. Never a dull moment....